A school district sent a request for public information to a charter school, asking for information about student applicants, including name, grade, address, phone number and the school district and campus the child attends. The charter school denied the request, stating that the information was confidential under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and not subject to disclosure. The school district sued, trying to compel the charter school to produce the records. The district court initially granted the school district’s request, and the charter school appealed to the court of appeals.
On appeal, the charter school argued that the public school district was not permitted to sue it for failing to disclose the records. The court of appeals agreed with this argument. FERPA states that an educational institution may disclose confidential information without the consent of the student or parent to other school officials who have been determined by the institution to have a “legitimate educational interest” in the records. Under the law, the entity that determines whether the records are subject to disclosure is the educational institute that holds the records, in this case the charter school. So the charter school successfully argued that nobody has the right to tell it whether the records are subject to disclosure, because the law gives it the exclusive right to make that determination.
In addition, the court noted that FERPA does not say that you can sue an educational institution that fails to disclose records. Instead, the way the law is enforced is that the Department of Education can withhold federal funding from an educational institute that improperly discloses confidential records. Therefore, if the school district believed that the charter school violated the law by failing to disclose the records, what it should do is to file a complaint with the Department of Education, not sue.
Based on these arguments, the court of appeals reversed the decision of the trial court and dismissed the lawsuit.